Book Review: An Evil Guest

Posted on December 5, 2008

Broadway shows, fancy restaurants, ancient gods - all in a day's work!

Broadway shows, fancy restaurants, ancient gods - all in a day's work!

If you’re a Sci-Fi/Fantasy fan and you haven’t heard of Gene Wolfe, all I can do is shake my head – from Book of the New Sun, to The Wizard, to his many short stories, you’ve been missing out on some of the best genre writing out there.

But perhaps even more intriguing than those classics is Wolfe’s uncanny ability to write across genres, and create stories with a totally unique appeal. His latest novel “An Evil Guest” takes this route, combining seemingly disparate elements – a pulp murder mystery, golden-age science fiction, and Lovecraftian horror. It’s a lot lighter than his usual fare, but it’s still a thrilling tale that, true to Wolfe’s style, is full of twists that will blindside you if you aren’t reading carefully.

The tale begins a century into our future, when the President of the United States hires a man named Gideon Chase to track down a “traitor” known as William Reis. Right away, it’s very clear that Chase is no ordinary private dick – the President calls him a “wizard”, and his philosophical ruminations on good and evil are deeper than anything Sam Spade or Philip Marlow wisecracked in their day. This is just as well – Reis too is no ordinary man. He has been to the planet Woldercan, and has learned some “strange things” there – telepathy and talking to ghosts are the simplest of the President’s guesses!

From there, the spotlight switches to Cassie Casey, a twice-married stage actress facing unemployment and an uncertain future. Chase enlists her aid in his mission, promising her riches and fame in return. The plan works – Casey soon finds herself the most popular actress in the world, as well object of Reis’ attention – but not without far reaching consequences for all three of them.

Scene for scene, Wolfe succeeds at conjuring a decadent noirish atmosphere, as he whisks us from the backstage of Broadway, to fancy restaurants, posh hotels, and even a South Pacific island. For the most part, the story is very cohesive, though there are a few plot threads (oh Norma!) that had a questionable resolution, and moments I had to reread a page or two to grasp the ever-thickening plot. My only serious issue is with the somewhat anticlimactic ending, which failed to induce the primal dread and awe that was probably intended.

He also has some genuinely entertaining characters – from the the suave Gideon Chase, the swaggeringly irresistible William Reis, the adorably flighty Cassie and her colorful co-stars, he succeeds in giving each of them a unique voice, but occasionally there are moments when they all seem smarter than they should – at times they break out into a random analysis of themselves or their current situation, making parts of this book not entirely unlike watching an episode of “House”.

Still, this book is proof that Gene Wolfe can write whatever kind of story he wants and make it work. If you’ve never read any of his work, give it a shot – this tricky adventure novel is quite enjoyable on its own, and will prepare you for Wolfe’s more ponderous work, such as the New Sun series. And if you’re a devoted fan like myself – well, you’ve probably read it already! Either way, it’s hard to go wrong with this book.

» Filed Under Books, Everything and Nothing

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One Response to “Book Review: An Evil Guest”

  1. Vay Kay in the Sunshine State Part 2: Animal Kingdom | Roving Hearts on December 19th, 2008 11:17 am

    […] week in Orlando? I’d been meaning to write about it sooner, but with so many interesting books and other topics over the past month, somehow it’s been all too easy to get sidetracked. But […]

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